FOX Soccer Exclusive
El Tri players must group together
Another "dos a cero" in Columbus laid bare an uncomfortable truth for Mexico on its bumpy and uncertain path through the Hexagonal.
This team simply isn't playing well enough to ensure a place at the World Cup.
Any fanciful notions of an immediate revival in the wake of José Manuel de la Torre's departure dissipated after the first half-hour in this ill-fated trip to Crew Stadium. The initial burst of desperation and energy faded without the corresponding end product. The ensuing fallout exposed this fragile shell of a disjointed side for the world to see.
Mexico crumbled again after its endeavor and its tempo dropped. The clever runs and the expansive work in the wide areas disappeared. The fleeting solidity dissipated when placed under modest duress. The imagination – never a strength even during those promising opening stages – evaporated entirely.
Even this weakened United States outfit managed to punish El Tri for its faults with the motivation of a World Cup berth on the line. The absence of Michael Bradley and the peripheral display from Clint Dempsey did not matter nearly as much as the visitors' lingering inability to muster a concerted and disciplined effort for the duration of the affair.
The inevitable breakthrough came through a rather unforgivable lapse on a set piece four minutes after the interval. Mexico failed to heed the first-half warning when Eddie Johnson headed straight at José de Jesús Corona from a promising position or rectify its marking issues during the halftime team talk. Johnson punished El Tri with a thunderous header shortly after play resumed to reinforce the lingering concerns about buckling down when necessary.
Similar sentiments applied on the second goal scored in the aftermath of a throw-in, though the decision to remove Carlos Salcido shortly before it occurred offered at least a mitigating factor in this instance. The home side explored the uncertainty within the Mexican setup after Salcido's departure with a series of neat touches on the left side of the penalty area. Persistent thorn Landon Donovan rounded off the move with a simple tap-in at the back post after an inviting low cross from substitute Mix Diskerud.
By the time Dempsey fired a late penalty wide to preserve the precious scoreline, Mexico looked well beaten, if not entirely accepting of its fate. The huffing and puffing improved and persisted for the most part. No square passes exited over the sideline in the final quarter of an hour on this occasion. And yet the familiar failings consigned El Tri to another defeat and another period of reflection prior to the two decisive qualifiers against Panama and Costa Rica next month.
The crisis of confidence and performance persisted through the temporary handoff from de la Torre to interim boss Luis Fernando Tena. The Olympic magic did not take hold in Columbus. Tena's ties to the previous regime and the all-too-familiar course of this defeat hinder any faint chances of a permanent appointment. Some other poor soul – former Monterrey miracle worker Victor Manuel Vucetich, perhaps – must accept the challenge of pulling Mexico out of its stupor.
It is quite the task at this stage, one that might continue through an unexpected trip to Wellington, New Zealand at some point in November. The problems consist of belief and cohesion, rather than talent. Compensating for a dearth of skill is one thing. Building a functioning unit to replace this faulty structure in such a compressed time frame presents another challenge entirely.
At this stage of the Hexagonal, Mexico cannot afford to dither in those efforts any longer. Any and all margin for error disappeared when Gabriel Torres equalized for Panama in Honduras. El Tri enters the fateful meeting between the two sides at Estadio Azteca on Oct. 11 in fifth place on goal difference, one home draw and one Panama victory against the already-qualified Americans away from disaster.
The new manager – if he indeed arrives, as expected – can only do so much to avoid such a wretched fate hardly of his own doing. He can invite Guillermo Ochoa and Carlos Vela back into the fold and work on the overall framework, but the outcome will end up out of his hands nonetheless.
No amount of tactical or technical work can compensate if the individuals fail to implement the alterations and improve their own performances. It is now down to the players to band together, muster the courage and summon the quality to recover from this humbling campaign to date. If they cannot fix this dire situation in short order, then the uncomfortable truth exposed again in Columbus might end up costing them dearly.